Infractions scoreboard: Nearly everybody gets in on the fun

by | Senior Writer

Second in a series.

No football conference has been more successful than the Southeastern Conference -- or as dirty.

While the SEC's run of five consecutive BCS titles and seven national championships in the past 13 seasons is unprecedented in college football, so is the number of major NCAA infractions the league has accumulated.

Five-Part Series: Cheating
Part I -- Dodd: Hard to win without cheating
Part II -- McMurphy: Teams that cheat the most
Part III -- McMurphy: Major equals minor consequences
Part IV -- Fischer: Accountable compliance officers needed
Part V -- July 15: What we have learned

Since the league expanded to 12 schools for the 1992 season, the SEC's football programs have committed more major infractions than any other conference.

S-E-C! S-E-C!

As part of this five-part series on cheating in college football, we look at which conferences and schools have cheated the most. Beginning in 1987 -- to coincide with SMU receiving the Death Penalty -- the SEC leads all conferences in major infractions with 13.

Since 1987, 10 of the SEC's 12 football programs have committed major infractions, according to the NCAA. The league's only football programs without a major infraction since 1987 are LSU (its last major infraction came in 1986) and Vanderbilt (which has never had a major infraction).

Alabama and Texas Tech, a former Southwest Conference school and current Big 12 member, have committed the most major infractions since 1987 with three each.

Cheating in college football is not limited to the SEC by any means. Nearly everybody is doing it in college football -- or at least it seems like that lately.

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, though, says he doesn't believe breaking the rules is necessary to be successful.

"I don't believe that," Petrino said. "We can do everything right and by the rules. You have to know the rules. You have to understand them. You have to find an advantage in some way or another. It's all about being able to try to find some advantage on the field with your players. I don't believe you have to play in the gray area."

That gray area continues to get murkier and murkier. Blame it on a system governed by an unwieldy 434-page NCAA rule book, but we're barely past the halfway mark of 2011 and this year could produce a record crop of NCAA major infractions.

Already this year, two Football Bowl Subdivision programs -- Texas Tech and Arkansas State -- have been found guilty of committing major NCAA infractions. The actual infractions were committed in earlier seasons, but the NCAA ruled on them this year and by the end of the year, that number could increase to five with Boise State, Tennessee and Ohio State all looking down the NCAA's barrel. North Carolina likely would make it a half-dozen programs penalized in 2011, except the Tar Heels' NCAA allegations likely won't be ruled on until 2012.

Major Infractions since 1987
No. Conference
13 SEC
12 Big 12, Pac-12
8 ACC, Big Ten
7 Conference USA
4 Big East, Sun Belt
2 Mountain West
1 Mid-American
1 Notre Dame
0 Western Athletic

If five football programs are penalized this year, it would account for the third-most major infractions in a calendar year since the NCAA started policing schools in 1953.

The only years with more major infractions came in 1988 (seven) and 2005 (six).

The seven infractions in 1988 were a year after SMU received the Death Penalty. When the NCAA lowered the boom on the Mustangs, by canceling their 1987 season (SMU also decided not to play any games in 1988), the NCAA's thought process and hope was such harsh penalties would deter programs from excessive cheating.

They were wrong.

Since SMU's Death Penalty on Feb. 25, 1987, nearly half of the current 120 FBS football programs have been cited by the NCAA as committing a "major infraction." And that's just the ones that have been caught.

The NCAA classifies violations as either "secondary" or "major." According to the NCAA's manual, major violations are considered those that provide "an extensive recruiting or competitive advantage."

Since 1987, there have been 72 major infractions committed by 56 of the nation's current 120 FBS programs, including 44 of the current 67 automatic-qualifying BCS members -- a staggering 65.7 percent from the six power conferences.

While Alabama and Texas Tech each have committed the most major infractions since 1987, a dozen other programs -- Cal, Colorado, Florida International, Florida State, Illinois, Minnesota, Mississippi State, Oklahoma, SMU, Texas A&M, Southern California and Washington -- have committed two major violations each.

Of the programs that have committed two or more major violations since 1987, 12 of the 14 are current members of automatic-qualifying BCS conferences.

Part of the reason only two SEC football programs have not had major infractions since the league's 1992 expansion might be because the conference requires schools to notify the league office if it learns of potential violations by another school.

However, Alabama coach Nick Saban, who has been an SEC head coach at LSU and 'Bama for nine seasons, says that system has worked for him.

"Whether at LSU or Alabama when we have an issue or a problem, we call the conference office," Saban said. "They have always dealt with all those things in a very satisfactory way and it's always worked well for me.

The SEC policy of informing the league about potential violations at other schools is OK with Nick Saban. (Getty Images)  
The SEC policy of informing the league about potential violations at other schools is OK with Nick Saban. (Getty Images)  
"If I have an issue with another school and I call and we report it, it's always been managed and handled the way I feel it should be. Now they always don't find what I maybe thought was out there, but it's always worked well and I've always thought their honesty, integrity, professionalism couldn't be questioned."

Based on each league's current membership, the SEC's 13 major infractions are the most since 1987 by a conference, followed by the Big 12 and Pac-12 (each with 12 major infractions).

In the past 25 years, the only Big 12 schools without a major infraction are Iowa State and Missouri, while the only current Pac-12 football programs without major infractions are Arizona, Oregon State, Stanford and UCLA.

The WAC's current membership is the only FBS conference without a major infraction during the past 25 years, while the Mountain West and Mid-American have combined for only three.

"Our [compliance] guys do a great job of trying to leave no stone unturned," Saban said. "But there's a fine line between the personal responsibility that you have to make sure that you managed things correctly and then being responsible for things that are entirely out of your control -- entirely out of your control.

"I don't really want to sit here and say [violations are] going to happen. I think realistically it would be hard to manage never having an issue or a problem. But I'm never going to accept the fact we can't sort of manage our situation -- and provide the leadership to get people to do the right things. We all fail, sometimes."

While the current memberships of the automatic-qualifying BCS leagues account for nearly two-thirds of the major infractions, trying to gain a competitive advantage is not limited to the big boys.

Sun Belt member Florida International didn't start playing football until 2002, but the Golden Panthers certainly are making up for lost time.

They made the move to FBS in 2005 and were promptly penalized for major infractions the same season. Then in 2008 they committed more major infractions, including the dreaded "lack of institutional control."

In fact, Florida International holds the distinction as the nation's only football program with multiple major infractions since 2005. So take that, Alabama, Texas Tech, USC and all of those other so-called big-time multiple rules violators!

While cheating in college football has been going on since the dawn of man -- first recorded case, 200,000 BC: Neanderthal University turned in Caveman State University after CSU invented fire and then illegally provided fire to recruits on their unofficial visits -- the way the NCAA's Committee on Infractions has dealt with violations has changed drastically in one area: television.

Before 1987, a television ban was the sledgehammer the NCAA's Committee on Infractions carried. Before then, 54 programs were banned from appearing on live television. Since then only nine programs have received television bans.

The last time the NCAA's Committee on Infractions imposed a television ban on an FBS program was nearly 20 years ago. Ironically, it was an SEC school that received the last television ban when Ole Miss received a one-year ban in 1994 and was not allowed to appear on television in 1995.

Joe D'Antonio, the Big East's senior associate commissioner for compliance, believes the television ban hasn't been used since because it affects more than the guilty program.

"Who's really being penalized?" D'Antonio said on Sirius/XM's College Football Playbook show. "If you have a FBS institution scheduled to be on [television] against an FCS school, certainly having that media exposure for FCS is a positive. Now when that game disappears from the radar, who really gets hurt in the process?"

Zero major infractions since '87
Conf. Schools
ACC Boston College, Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State, Wake Forest
Big East UConn, Louisville, South Florida, West Virginia
Big Ten Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue
Big 12 Iowa State, Missouri
Pac-12 Arizona, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA
SEC LSU, Vanderbilt

Without the fear of being kept off national television -- one of the school's top recruiting tools -- big-time football programs really have no fear of the consequences if it is caught cheating.

A loss of scholarships? Fewer days recruiting by the coaches? That's a bug on the windshield for college football's big-time programs.

"Once there were conference television contracts, if I impose a TV ban on 'Team A,' then it's unfair to the other [conference] schools," said Jo Potuto, a constitutional law expert at Nebraska and former infractions committee member.

Before 1987, 17 schools received a one-year ban from appearing on live television, 27 schools received two-year bans and six schools received three-year bans. If a school received a three-year ban from appearing on live television these days, it would be devastating -- but the Committee on Infractions continues to delve out punishment with a wet, soggy noodle.

Another factor is if a football program ever was banned from television, it still could receive its millions of dollars in conference media rights revenue. The NCAA's Committee on Infractions has no power to withhold television revenue. Any financial penalties would be determined by the bylaws of that school's conference.

Besides the fact the Committee on Infractions is now reluctant to impose a television ban, it also cannot withhold bowl money from a football program for committing major NCAA violations.

"The key here is unlike NCAA championships, where if you have to vacate a Final Four [appearance], the Committee on Infractions and NCAA can mandate that you as an institution return monies to the NCAA," D'Antonio said. "The BCS is not controlled by the NCAA. Consequently the Committee on Infractions cannot impose those types of [financial] penalties."

Nearly 60 years ago, the NCAA -- without the benefit of Twitter or the Internet -- levied the first major penalties against a college football program. On Jan. 8, 1954, Notre Dame and Arizona State College (four years later, the school was renamed Arizona State University) became the first football programs found to have committed major infractions.

Notre Dame's rules violations are laughable compared to what's going on currently in college athletics. For a four-year period the NCAA ruled that the Fighting Irish, then coached by Frank Leahy, conducted tryouts of prospective athletes. These tryouts, the NCAA said, "consisted of wind sprints, calisthenics, reflex tests, running, passing and dummy blocking."

Yes, folks, that's correct: Notre Dame violated Article VI, Section 3 of the NCAA bylaws, in part, because prospective athletes did some jumping jacks.

Arizona State, however, was a different situation. The Sun Devils were ahead of their time, becoming the nation's first college football program penalized for paying players.

The NCAA said from 1949-52 that the Sun Angel Foundation, a nonprofit organization located in Phoenix, raised $79,600 and provided financial aid to Arizona State's players.

A nonprofit organization in Phoenix spending elaborate amounts of money about 60 years ago? Go ahead and fill in your own former Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker joke.

The increase in the frequency of major infractions is not a laughing matter, but a stark reality of today's world of college football. Since those first major infractions were levied by the NCAA back in 1954, in the past 58 years there has been only one year -- 1963 -- that no college football programs were penalized for committing a major infraction.

That's a streak of 49 consecutive years with at least one major infraction by an FBS program. And that streak doesn't look like it will end anytime soon. Not without a drastic overhaul of the NCAA's inch-thick rulebook or a major attitude change throughout college football, from the SEC to the Sun Belt.


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